We first thought of this trip a couple of years ago, research undertaken drew us to Naturetrek, a well regarded company whose guides are amongst the finest there are. Obviously the trips are not cheap and have to fit within the available budget, last year we decided the time was right and made the booking.
Since then despite some memorable trips around the north of the UK my mind has been fixed on this venture, maybe finally we would see the wolf we yearned for.
Sailing out of Portsmouth, about a 280 mile drive, we decided to enjoy a couple of days in the New Forest prior to departure. A comfortable flat above a village inn was rented and turned out to be a delightful place to stay, plus we took advantage of the location to finally meet up with some fellow Facebook wildlife fans for a drink and a very enjoyable walk.
Some advice from them enabled me to get a pretty good little egret shot at a local reserve...
A kind lady approached and asked if we were with the Naturetrek trip, dead giveaway with camera bags and binoculars strapped to me! We joined the other eleven guests, ranging from London, High Wycombe, Chorley, Newcastle, Inverness and Aberdeen we seemed like a disparate group and yet a love of wildlife bound us together.
Our tour guides arrived and dealt with the ticket details and cabins located we managed to get on deck not too long after the six o'clock departure. By the time we reached open sea darkness was descending and watching was pointless, bars and restaurants were located and friendships began to forge.
We had a pre-arranged viewpoint for the next morning on the top starboard side of the ferry and I managed to get decent shots of a great shearwater....
We managed to find some great food and after a good sleep and a tasty breakfast we met for the two mini buses to be loaded for the trip to our first base. Our two guides were Gerald Broddelez, a Belgian national and Byron Palacios, originally from Ecuador but now resident in the UK, more on them later.
We were on Byron's bus and quickly established a good rapport with him and our fellow passengers, similar things happenened on Gerald's bus too, people can bond surprisingly quickly when they have a common interest.
After a long but interesting journey we finally arrived at our first proper location in wild Spain, Pola de Somiedo in the Asturias region. We were given a while to relax then it was out on our first wildlife trip, further up into the Cantabrian mountains to look for bears.
A short but steep uphill walk from the parking place took us to a vantage point....
After a traditional meal at the hotel, delicious by the way, we were given the timetable for the following day, one that would become routine.
Meet at seven am for a quick coffee then out for a couple of hours, back for breakfast and maybe half an hour to ourselves then out again in the increasing heat for a bird and butterfly walk, back at the hotel between two thirty and three, siesta time! Back out between four and five until darkness, then sometimes as late as ten we ate our evening meal. It sounds easy but believe me it gets more and more tiring. For the first day we were allowed breakfast before we set off, thank goodness!
We set off in good spirits the next day, despite some us really enjoying the free wine that accompanied the evening meal. An alert passenger had spotted a female wildcat out hunting, their main prey is the mole rat and we saw her catch one!
We proceeded up to a bear observatory point by a roadside, a large wooden bear advertises that this is the correct place. Just to show how hard it can be one recent trip had three four hour visits to this point and saw a bear for five minutes, nothing is guaranteed.
We scanned the screes and forest edges patiently for a couple of hours or more, lunch was enjoyed in a rota with some still scanning. Scopes and binoculars were constantly moving across the slopes about 200 metres away and then a loud whisper "We have a bear!"....everyone moved to get a view as first an adult female and then a youngster emerged, by moving down the road we watched them for over an hour, just magical.
We enjoyed a hearty supper that evening and the following day we drove up to some glacial remnants that provided some real highlights with the birds of prey.
First up a common frog in a mountain cave stream about 5,500 ft asl
A couple of hours to relax before the first trip, it's hot but I'm wired so we go for a wander and find a wall lizard...
Some of us had a post dinner drink or two every night, with no absentees from the early morning outings, we found humour a great way to release any tensions that can easily build up with strangers thrown together, some great friendships were forming as well.
The lunchtime bird and butterfly walks brought some beautiful sights though I have little clue to their identities!
A mixture of house and sand martins en route to Africa
A juvenile garden warbler...
An almost wolf wolf shaped cloud, imagination may be necessary :-)
We came home with wonderful memories of great, friendly people and an increased respect for just how a group with similar aims can get on together. Massive respect for our guides for their knowledge, humour and above all their people skills, two great guys.
Between us we logged over 120 birds, my personal count was 103 including 31 new ones.
Thanks to all on the trip from me and Josie :-)
Many thanks to all who read, don't forget if you do comment that the comments come to me first for moderation.
One day me and the wolf will get together.................